Munsyari – The final destination

At the threshold of inner Himalayas, looking down on the Gori river gorge with deep valleys branching up into the high mountains, touching Tibet – the roof of the earth – in the north and bordering Nepal in the east lies Munsiyari at an altitude of around 2290 meters.

Gori Ganga


The three main rivers of Munsiyari tehsil are River Gori, River Namik and River Ralam. These rivers flow in the valleys named after them and draw water from the high mountain ranges that encircle and characterize the area of these three valleys. The Gori Ganga valley is also known as the Johar valley. It is the central and major valley with extensive glacial headwaters. Ralam valley is an eastern tributary of the Gori Ganga valley while Namik valley lies to the south west with lesser glacial origins.

Munsiyari is gateway to the Johar region and baseway for trekking to Milam, Namik and Ralam glaciers. Johar valley can be further sub-divided into three regions – Malla Johar, Talla Johar and Goriphat.

Malla Johar refers to the upper section of the Johar valley. It has wide grassland slopes and terraces. These beautiful high altitude meadows, the extensive pasture land, found at heights of over approximately 2700 meters are known as Bugyals. These flat lands with rising and falling slopes are mostly carpeted in a patchwork of green and floral pattern. Some of these Bugyals are green lawn of different hues, fringed with clusters of dense conifers and some of them are covered with different kind of flowers that bloom throughout the year. Generally, the snow-capped mountains stand-in bold reliefs against the skyline of these Bugyals but sometimes Bugyals are so high that they dwarf the mountains.

Talla Johar refers to the lower Johar that includes Munsiyari, Madkot and Seragaht. The steeper forested slopes of Talla Johar are separated from the wide grassland slopes and terraces of Malla Johar by a deep 35 Km narrow gorge created by the River Gori.

Goriphat is at the confluence of the two rivers named after the two extreme incarnations of Maa Parvati, the River Gori and the River Kaali. Kaali Ganga or the River Sharda flows from the Nepal border. Interestingly, at several places this river determines and demarcates the international boundaries between India and Nepal.

Several idols representing Maa Gauri – Picture taken in Raja Deenanath Kelkar Museum Pune

Munsiyari is the name given to some twenty thirty villages on the bank of river Gori. Before tourism spread its wings and reached the farthest region of Kumaon these villages were exclusively inhabited by Bhotias.

The term Bhotia comes from the native Tibetan word for Tibet, “Bo”, and refers to the people living in the Bhot or Bod region of Himalayas that includes Tibet and the northern most part of Uttranchal. They have Mongoloid features and are believed to be the descendents of Kinnaurs and Rajkirats who lived in this region since the Vedic period. They are well known for their industriousness, spirit of adventure and courage to face hardships.

Returning from Malla Johar

Only thirty percent of Bhotia had agriculture as their original occupation. The rest seventy percent are of Shauka tribe who used to do business with Tibet till 1962. Bhotias were once the most prosperous community of this region as they had an exclusive control over the trade link between India and Tibet. At that time with the arrival of spring the whole population of Johar valley used to migrate to their summer settlements of twelve high villages of Malla Johar. The trade activity required frequent travels through the trail connecting Kumaon to the Western Tibet, which passed through the fragile terrain of the Kumaon hills, round the year and consequently Bhotias had a semi-nomadic pattern of life.

Each Bhotia trader had a special correspondent in Tibet with whom the trade transaction used to take place. Over the years that correspondence turned into strong bonds of friendship. Those links were so strong that it was impossible to break Bhotia monopoly in that trade.

The higher reaches of these valleys remain wholly covered with snow for nearly six months in a year. The severity of winter combined with heavy snow fall makes it impossible to live there and hence Bhotias have to move southwards to their winter homes in warmer places. Munsyari was their winter retreat.

The fortune of Bhotias changed drastically with the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 and the subsequent Indo-China war in 1962. The Indo-Tibetan border was sealed and the Trans-Himalayan trade came to a grinding halt. As that trade was the sole source of income for majority of the Bhotias, it created extremely harsh conditions for them. Government of India realized their misfortune and granted them the status of Scheduled tribes.

Though the trade with Tibet had been brought to an end long ago, still there are some villages where the whole population migrates to Malla Johar in summers. For most of them the major source of livelihood is wool-based cottage industry, but with strong government initiative some of them have also adopted agriculture and horticulture as their prime occupation.

The above description was for information, and the coordinate hungry readers …

Resuming the story of our journey to Kumaon region, where I left readers in my previous travelogue, let’s continue. We were enjoying our stay at Birthi so much that we kept on delaying the onward journey. After all, Munsiyari, our destination, was just 32-kms away.

Around Birthi many hay bales were visible in the shape of scare crow. Several such bundles gave an impression of a modern sculptor depicting people gathering and marching forward for a common cause. Hay bales are not straw but grass and legumes cut, collected, dried and stored for use as animal fodder during harsh weather conditions. In hills, during winters it is difficult to find grazing pastures and at that time these hay bales provide the required nutrition to the domestic grazing animals.

People marching forward :-)

The grass in hay bales must be dried properly since wet grass rot on storage and creates potential for toxins to form in the feed. This shape helps in keeping grass dry from inside even during rains. It’s not done for aesthetics or fun.

Hay bale

Those bundles reminded me of my dream landscape, the vast European grasslands dotted with cylindrical hay bales.

Soon after Birthi, we were driving on a long stretch of a serpentine road, in circumlocution mode. But we were enjoying it!

The vehicles on that road were dwarfed not only by the immense mountains in their backdrop, looking like impregnable castle walls, but also by the tall Deodar trees standing upright like alert sentinels. As compared to the journey till Birthi, these bends were sharper, trees were taller and the whole landscape was greener, quieter and more un-spoilt.

The alert sentinels

It must be a remarkable accomplishment to build such roads on these insurmountable mountains. It reminded me of my friend Gyurmee’s (owner of Bliss resort, Biksthang in Sikkim) sad comment that he made while looking at a similar engineering feat in Sikkim, “People travelling on these roads seldom realizes the extreme sacrifices many workers had made to achieve their smooth drive.” He was looking at the road where several workers had lost their life during its construction. I wish there had been no such mis-happening in Birthi. Anyway, I salute these ‘civil soldiers’ to provide us such a smooth drive.

The Serpentine roads

En-route we stopped at twenty seven hundred meters high Kalamuni top where there was no habitation except a temple. Tanmay was sleeping on my shoulder so it was not possible for me to visit the temple. No complains :-) as it is an extremely satisfying feeling when kids put their head against your shoulder and falls asleep. A gesture that says I recognize this cozy bed and I trust that I am in protective arms. As a parent you understand the strenuous journey the little delicate ones are taking with you and so you like to make minimal movements lest their sleep should be disturbed. It is true that,
फिर चाहे वक़्त उन्हे कुछ भी बना दे
लोरियों तक सब हैं शहज़ादे|

A nap and the kids are fresh again

After the visit to the temple everyone returned except the driver of our vehicle. The other driver cautioned us that he saw him enjoying Cannabis (Ganza) with the sadhu inside. We almost forced the driver to return and to start again. He had his own version as an excuse. He told that the sadhu inside was showing him the pictures of late Babaji with tigers and was telling him that earlier wild cats regularly used to visit the temple. The temple surroundings had such a calming effect on them that they never made any kill around it. Even herbivores were aware of the miraculous effect and roamed freely around them.

After Kalamuni top there was a deep-green forested valley. A baaz was hovering and gliding effortlessly. We stopped to look at that awesome flight with our binoculars and suddenly our attention was drawn to deer like animals running away, but they vanished in the blink of an eye.

There were no villages on this route as this region is sparsely populated. We occasionally met flocks of sheep and tribes of goats. At a point we met a herd of cow drinking water from a waterhole. Two cow herders were preparing food for themselves and it looked nothing less than a picnic. At least from our stand point :-). I wonder if it remains a picnic even when it is a daily routine. Should be.

A tribe of goats

Males cooking their own food! I would like to share an interesting observation. In most of the hotels cooks are always male. It is an irrefutable proof that men cook better than the fairer sex. It is then another story that they are of lazy-adjustable kinds who can eat anything with a perfect glow of satisfaction on their faces. I once shared this eternal truth with my wife. She curtly replied, “Perhaps that’s why it is fine to dine out once or twice, but after only a few outings you (read males) start missing home cooked food.” I dared not to tell her that these kinds are not only lazy but are misers as well.

Picnic

We reached Munsiyari in around two hours. It was a small town and probably even that is a result of tourism. We had two rooms booked in Zara resort. One room, possibly the best room of the hotel, cost Rs 2500 and the other room, the standard one, cost us Rs 1200. We were allotted two adjacent rooms separated by a false wall. The rooms had wonderful acoustics; any word spoken or even whispered in one room was clearly audible in the other. It’s not only Wiki-leaks vying for a transparent world; Zara Resort is making its own contributions in a small way :-)

Zara is a simple budget hotel in peaceful surroundings, facing a village house with a small potato farm. It was carpeted but the worn-out shabby carpet made it look cheap and unkempt. In general, I have noticed that in the absence of proper care and maintenance carpeted mid-range hotels look awful within a few years.

The room in Zara resort

In the standard room, in the toilet, water was dripping from the roof in addition to the faucet. We brought it to the manager’s notice and requested him to allot the adjacent room. He rudely denied the possibility.

Zara is located at a height overlooking the whole town. The area around it was green and beautiful birds can be spotted in the mornings and evenings. There was a mountain trail leading to a Bugyal just behind the hotel. As we started to trek two village dogs decided to join us. We walked carefully, maintaining a safe distance from them. They were of quite quiet types as otherwise we might have abandoned trekking right at the beginning itself.

It was a pleasant trek amidst the green surroundings. The sky was overcast and the weather was very windy. The enthusiasm of the wind in encouraging us to walk was palpable. But, Mr. Sun was tired. It was a long exhausting day for him and he had already waited long enough for us to trek. By the time we started trekking, he wanted to retire for the day. We realized Sun’s point (even before having reached a desirable ‘sunset-point’) and reluctantly had to give in to him. That small lovely walk was our first outing of Munsiyari but even that filled us with great enthusiasm. On return, the dogs smelled us, found nothing offensive nor attractive and allowed us a slip to Zara.

22 Comments

  • Mahesh Semwal says:

    Prof. Manish,

    First of all wish you & your family a very happy & prosperous new year !!!!!!!

    I have been to Kumoun but visited only major towns. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    In the first week of this month , I was in Dehradun & visited some of the unexplored place & observed that Uttranchal Government is doing lot of activities for the rehabilitation of Tibetans.

    Road condition in Uttranchal is now very better , lot of new roads constructed under ” Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana”.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Thanks Mahesh for going through the post and levaing your comment :-) After reading Dalai Lama’s “Freedom in Exile”, I realized the plight of Tibetan refugees and its always pleasing to hear about people, organization and government helping them out.

    There was a time when I used to think that refugees are always a burden on the host country. Now, I feel that no one wants to leave his own country till the conditions become inhumane and non-livable. And a warm hand and open heart is what they need :-)

    That book sort of opened by eyes. BTW, Bhotias are not Tibetan, they are Indians (from ages)who were involved in business with Tibetans.

    I too wish you and your family a very happy new year.

  • naman says:

    Dear Manish
    First of all A Warm & Happy New Year 2011 for you and your family
    Nice post, Nice photos and beautiful information about Bhotias. Thanks for giving us such intresting information about Bhotias. I think they are one of the first international buisenessmen of Kumoun especially of that region. As we go through this post I think of Munsiyari which is snow capped all over these days.Munsiyari is facing snowfall every now and then these days. Beautiful place beautiful discription.
    Thanks again

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Naman

      I too wish you and your family a very happy new year.

      Thanks for leaving your comment and liking the post. I agree with you that Bhotias are the first international businessman of the Kumaon.

      In this part of the year Munsyari is all white. Munsiyari of this weather is quite different from the one we visited. Though in this cold, those white images look intimidating than welcoming ;-)

  • Shubhra Sethia says:

    Just jumped onto this post without reading the earlier ones in the series….and after reading this really need to go through all others :-)

    Whenever I saw these hay bales while travelling, I always wondered what happens to them when it rains ! Finally got to know here…of the innovation with shape !

    Somehow, the ‘people marching forward’ photo reminds me of the personified trees in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movie.

    Simply beautiful photos…seeing the photos of goats and cows on the road, I re-called an incident – Pranav coloured the picture of cow in some crazy colour. I gently asked him, not meaning to offend his creativity, whether he really thinks cow is of this colour ? He replied innocently -“?????????time???????cow??????????????????????????????colour ????????” :-)

    • Thanks Shubhra for leaving this beautiful note.

      And also thanks for sharing this lovely incident. Kids, they amaze, bring broad smile with their innocent talks :-) The way you approached towards Pranav’s painting cow differently is remarkable. Kudos to you and thanks again for the comment.

  • Nandan says:

    Professor – Seems like “Lessons of life” continued…. First , big thanks for the enriching information about Munsiyari. My notion of Munsiyari was that its a base-camp (Kumaon Village, trekkers, guides, equipment, etc) for treks and had no clue that it was connected to Tibet, so strongly. That itself is a great motivation. Also someone was telling me about Birthi falls so at least the idea is planted now, need to nurture it.

    Brilliant snaps of ‘Hay Bales’ and that sunshine is really looking soothing for someone who has not seen a good Sun for last many many days. I know that it was sunny yesterday and today is looking even better but those brightly lit pics, wow.

    I know you do not enjoy writing it, but see if you would want to write a short hotel review. these are really useful esp for the off-feat and far-away places Ghumakkars here usually travel.

    And finally I am guessing that we have just entered Munsiyari and more things would happen as we read more in this series.

    • Thanks Nandan for the lovely comment. I am sure destination Munsyari is worth exploring.In-fact visiting Munsyari would mean exploring Kumaon.

      I agree that sun-shine of Munsyari is looking luring, though the reality as pointed by Naman would be that this place presently would be under a blanket of snow.

      About hotel review, as you rightly pointed out that I don’t enoy it and I don’t even feel that I can do justice to it. Even then I make it a point to write about the hotel we were staying, I even provide a few pictures so that it becomes easier to decide about the kind of accommodation. Sometimes those descriptions are misfit in over all description. Still I try as I feel that it may help some of the travellers.

      Yes, we have just entered Munsyari and the subsequent post would be about Munsyari.

      Thanks again Nandan.

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Hay bales look really interesting.

    No doubt Munsyari is a wonderful place. However, the geographical and anthropological lessons seem a bit over-stretched for a travelogue. Enjoyed it anyway.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      I wish you a very happy new year Patrick.

      Thanks for your frank opinion :-)

      Travelogue or my own understanding of the place and its peculiarities, these boundaries are becoming hazy for me. I feel helpless about not sharing something that I feel was interesting for me.

  • Nikhil says:

    Nice pictures and I’d say an elaborate travelogue indeed… except for a few digressions. Wonderful place it is especially so because of insightful information that you have provided here. Munsyari will definitily be in my list. Long time since I have been to trek to Himalayan trails Dodital being the destination.

    • manish khamesra says:

      Thanks Nikhil for your comment having both a compliment and a shikayat for my digressions :-)

      Dodital is indeed very beautiful. I have never been there, just introduced through ghumakkar.

      For me Munsyari was the final destination , but for a person like you perhaps it would be the start point :-)

      Keep on travelling and keep sharing.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Another informative masterpiece from the master craftsman. I have been wanting to go Munsiyari for a long time. After reading your narrative, I feel that I have just come back from the trip to the region.

    The pictures are scintillating, especially the first one which is simply astounding.

    • manish khamesra says:

      Its you Ram who is creating new milestones everytime you write. You are our mentor and so its a pleasure to get your comment and to know that you find the story up-to-the mark :-)

      Wishing you a very happy new year.

  • Rakesh Pant says:

    Nice travelogue, I am off tommorrow to lead a team to Khaliya Top ( http://www.trekthehimalayas.com/khaliyatrek.html) , and the base camp for the trek is Munsiyari. Very informative write up and few pointers for me as well. Thanks.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Dear Rakesh

    Its a pleasure that you liked the post.

    I wish you a pleasant journey to Khaliya top. The pictures of Khaliya top are looking very impressive. Please do share your experience.

    Manish.

  • Nandan says:

    Professor – Can you suggest me a itinerary ex-Delhi.

    I have 6 nights and I would want to stay at least one night at Bhimtal/Naukuchia/Sattal (on the way back). For first day, I can drive very far. My primary destination is Munsiyari so give me most time there.

    Also, my limited research says that Zara and Wayfarer, both are ok/good hotels. Any insights on that aspect ?

    Your truly.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Hi Nandan

      I would suggest you to follow the following itinerary:

      Deenapaani – 1st night, KMVN deenapaani is good (book the cottage).
      Birthi – 2nd night, reach there at time. Its a place to be. Enjoy the falls. KMVN Birthi is pretty good.
      3. Munsyari (3rd, 4th Night) – Inquire have they renovated ZARA recently, else avoid it. Zara’s location is good, but is badly maintained. Wayfarer may be better.
      5. Chakori – 5th Night at Ojaswi resort. Beautiful place to stay. There is nothing much in Chakori, so you think of staying at Jageshwar as well. Jageshwar is a beautiful place to be and surely you will return with an interesting experience. May think of Patal Bhuvneshwar as well. Esp recommended if you not seen the caves of Europe and also if you love to hear Mythological stories. It is ok for the kids as well.
      6. Sattal – Country inn could be the place to stay.

      I hope it will help.

  • Nandan says:

    Professor – This is what I am doing.

    1. Abbott Mount (I wanted to drive via this side so that I can be back via the regular route)
    2. Chaukori (at Ojaswi. Thank you for the lovely link)
    3. Chaukori
    4. Munsiyari (Zara has got bad reviews. booked KMVN)

    I am keeping 5th night as free (so either I would drive back to 7-tal, or Almora/Binsar or stay for one more day at Munsyari).

    Then 2 nights at 7-tal camp.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Hi Nandan

      Its a good plan. The modification I would suggest is to stay only for one night in Chakori and move next day to Birthi. Birthi, KMVN is at a picturesque location and we find Birthi better than Chakori.

      And also, Sattal is so near that you can visit it on weekend, or on extended weekend. So instead of two nights in Sattal, think of something more interesting on the way. For example, we really liked Jageshwar (recommended) or Deenapani (KMVN).

      Please stay at Munsyari for two nights. Its a Must, so you don’t miss the awesome Panchachuli peaks. Do visit Darkot village. In my opinion, the places that are far are the one you should spend more time as nearby places you can visit later on as well.

  • Nandan says:

    Professor – This is what I finally did

    Night 1 – Abbot Mount
    2 – Chaukori
    3 – Chaukroi
    4 – Munsyari (we thought of staying one more day but we chose a very bad time of year, it was raining all through and with landslides and long ride back home, we left after one day, stayed at KMVN)
    5 – Binsar
    6 – 7-tal

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